Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Rwanda Rewind: Why We Left Early and Day One

Since we've been home with our three children (THREE!) for a few days now, I thought it would be good to catch up a little on this bloggy record-keeping. Because while I don't scrapbook or keep baby books, I do keep this blog, and it serves as a record of our little family's days. So now, going back to the beginning, I will fill in some gaps left by secrecy, lack of time, or poor internet connection. (Don't worry; they won't all be this long.)

The original plan was to leave our home on Thursday, April 28 and go to Jacksonville to spend the night and see Haylee graduate. Then we were going to drive to Orlando, get the boys settled, and fly to DC on Saturday, April 20. After a night spent in DC, we'd hop aboard the long flight over the ocean, landing in Rwanda on May 2 and meeting our dear girl that afternoon.

Plans changed.

Tuesday evening, April 26, we had just stopped at Panda Express for a special treat. I had spent the day before packing, and Tuesday had to take Iain to the doctor for his arm, and then spent the rest of the day trying to get ready to go. Went to the bank to get the cash we needed, but they didn't have the right bills and told me to come back on Wednesday. I never had the chance. As Jeremy ordered our food, I got a call from our POA in Rwanda (power of attorney). She said that Laina was very sick and in the hospital. She'd know more tomorrow and would call back around 2am our time to tell us how she was, and whether or not we should come early.

The world fell apart. I couldn't eat (didn't eat until when, sometime the next day? The day after?), couldn't think. We called a friend to come notarize the last of our documents in case we had to leave early, called close family, headed home. Found that there was a flight we could make if we left at 1:30am that night and drove to TN to get to the airport there. If we could pull off packing and saying goodbye to the boys, scaring up the cash we needed, finishing the documents, and get out the door, we could be with Laina on Thursday. We decided to go for it.

With help from my mom, Jenna and Curtis, and my dear friend Kelly, we pulled it off. I was a wreck, sick with worry over my girl, upset about leaving the boys so fast and without easing them (and me) into it. It was a horrible night. We drove out of the driveway at 1:30am and headed for Tennessee., arriving at 4:30am and boarding the plane to DC at 6. We heard from our POA that she was a little bit better, and we breathed a tiny sigh of relief.

We made it to DC and got on the flight (12? I forget) to head to Ethiopia. After a long night with (again) no sleep, we made it. Africa. The emotions I expected to feel were muted by worry and exhaustion, but we recognized nonetheless the amazing fact that now we were on the same continent as our daughter, and soon we'd be in her homeland. After another layover in ET, the final flight left. We stopped over in Uganda for about half an hour and then we were there. In Rwanda, the land we had dreamed of for almost two years. The circumstances were not what we had expected or hoped, but we were there. And soon we'd see our little girl. How was she? Would she be okay? What was the matter with her? How sick was she? Soon we'd know.

We took a cab to the hotel, Chez Lando, dropped our luggage in the room, and met up with our other POA. He took us straight to the hospital. The moment we had expected, driving down the bumpy dirt road to the blue gates. They swing open and we enter, full of joy and butterflies. We wait for a moment and then we see a woman dressed in a white and blue habit carrying her to us, bringing our daughter to our arms... this was not to be our moment. Instead, we nervously walked the breezeways in the hospital, stopping at a little room. Our POA knocked on the door and opened it. We eagerly, anxiously entered the tiny, stiflingly hot room. Four babies were lying on the beds, and two girls sat with them, talking and smiling at them, caring for them. The girls smiled at us, and I barely registered that as I scanned the room. Where was she? One of the girls moved aside and pointed at a tiny little girl lying on the right-hand bed near the window. Our daughter.

We had decided not to videotape our first meeting as we didn't have any idea how sick she'd be. But it plays in my mind like a movie. We walked toward her. She was on her right side, facing the aisle. She had an iv in her hand. I put my hand on her side and she immediately rolled over onto her back, looking me in the face. We talked to her for a moment, and then I picked her up. She played with my necklace. She didn't smile. She was so, so warm, but sweating, so I knew she wasn't feverish at the moment. I was glad for the iv, thinking that she needed the fluids. Here are the first pictures of us with our Laina, at the time known as Epiphanie.

We talked to Laina for a while and held her. We fed her some pedialite. We loved on the other sick babies and prayed for them. We talked to the girls who cared for them and found out some about Laina's past. We checked on the baby of our friends who would arrive the next day. We kissed Laina goodnight and promised to come check on her tomorrow. And then we left.

Then we headed to the orphanage and saw those blue gates open. We met with one of the nuns and talked about Epiphanie and how she was doing. The sister seemed glad that we were there loving on our girl. It was the absolute right decision, stressful as it was. We needed to be with her and she needed her parents there.

Turns out that Laina had pneumonia. She had had a high fever, was dehydrated, and because she's so small, was going downhill fast. I'm glad we didn't know at the time how bad she had been. The sisters took her to the hospital and by the time we made it there, she was on the mend. Many people in Rwanda prayed for our little girl: the sisters, our POA and his church. Many people in America prayed too. How this baby is loved!

By this time it was late. We stopped for pizza (yum!) at Sola Luna, and then hit the sack and slept for the first time in days. We were in Rwanda. Laina was going to be okay. We had met her, finally, after so many days of waiting, and she was ours. That day, April 28, 2011, I held my daughter in my arms, and then her daddy did the same. The fulfillment of a dream may not have looked the way I expected, a stuffy hospital room instead of a flowering courtyard, the feelings of anxiety and stress instead of excitement and joy, but the dream in my arms was exactly the one I had prayed for. Our daughter. Laina Kate. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

We're Home!

The day we have waited for for almost two years is here: we have all three of our children under one roof. This afternoon, we finally made it home! We hugged our boys at the gate (sweet moment of all three together, the boys meeting Laina and loving on her), and then were welcomed by family and friends at baggage claim. Pictures of the airport meeting to come.

This afternoon, the three played together on the rug for a few minutes. Three peas in a pod.

For now, let me just say that Laina is sleeping in her own crib right now. Joy!

Tonight, as I was putting the boys to bed,
Me: It's a good night tonight because I get to put you guys down to sleep, and I haven't done that in a long time.
Cory: And it's a good day because Laina's home. And she's so cute.
True. :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Homeward Bound!

This is Kristen, Allie's mom:

Allie, Jeremy, and Laina Kate are at the airport in Ethiopia, waiting to begin their journey home! They will arrive in Atlanta tomorrow (Thurs). We can't wait!!!

Please join us in praying for safe travel and good health.

Praising God for bringing Laina home to us at last!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Home Stretch

(This is Kristen - Allie's mom - posting this for her)

We are in Ethiopia, working on getting Laina a visa. Our embassy appointment is later this week. Laina had her medical visit on Saturday, and passed her exam. She's doing well. She has gained almost a pound since we met her, and her motor skills are improving!

We'll try to post another update soon...

Friday, May 13, 2011

On To Ethiopia

Tonight at 1:30am, we leave Rwanda and head for Ethiopia for a week or so. We have to go there to get a medical check for Laina, and also to get her visa. We don"t know how the internet will be, so if you don't hear from us, you know why. We are glad to be taking one step closer to being home.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I Love My Family

And Aunt Lindy is right...Laina has no idea what she's getting herself into.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

To Whom it May Concern...

Today we finally got that sweet piece of paper that will allow us to keep Laina with us forever! Although she was legally ours when we passed court, we had to have a signed travel letter, called a To Whom, before we could keep her with us at night, and also leave the country with her. Today we got it!!

We still have to finish getting her passport (applied for it yesterday), and have an embassy appointment before we can head to Ethiopia and then HOME! We're so glad to be done with the hard parts of the Rwanda paperwork and so happy that, save one farewell visit, Laina will not have to go back to the orphanage. She's an orphan no more.

Thank you all for your prayers. Yesterday was a long, frustrating, tiring day but today we can't keep from smiling.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mother's Day and Prayer Requests

(Make sure you scroll down to the post under this one...PICTURES, finally!! It only let me load two, but I am NOT complaining!)

We had a great day today. Laina was with us from 6:30-5pm, and although she was fussier than usual, we still got some great smiles out of her. We went to church this morning, a great service, although we missed most of the music, unfortunately. Laina slept all morning until we got to church and then was awake through the whole service (and wiggly!), and then right at the moment they said the last "amen" she fell asleep. Thanks a lot, girlie.

This afternoon we went shopping, which was fun. Bartering is very stressful, in my opinion. But there are a lot of cool things to look at and we did buy a few. Laina did great, especially when we bought her a cute little African doll which she loves. :)

Please pray for her with feeding. She's still not taking a bottle well at all, and not eating enough. The formula we have doesn't sit well with her stomach either. We know it's a matter of her adjusting from the food she got in the orphanage to the new stuff, but she's not comfortable, and she's having a rough time.

Tomorrow we have two important things on our to-do list. We are praying to get our travel letter, which will allow us to keep Laina Kate all the time and not have to take her back to the orphanage...ever! So you can pray with us for that, too.

And finally, pray for us and the boys. They are, I think, doing better than I am with this separation. Not fun at all. I miss my fellows.

Funny that four years ago on Mother's Day I found out that I was pregnant with Cory, and on this Mother's Day we decided on a name for our third born. It's a pretty good holiday for me. :)

We love and miss you all!


It is with great joy and thanksgiving that we introduce you to our daughter, Laina Kate Brannon:

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Don't Hate Me

I have been trying literally all day long to load one single picture, and with no luck. I'll try again before we go to bed, but you may just have to wait to meet Laina. So sorry! She's a cutie. :)

We had a great day today with her--it felt like Christmas. We picked her up at the orphanage at 6:30am and kept her with us until 5 this evening (and putting her back in that crib was the hardest it's been yet). We had a nice morning in the hotel, letting her nap on the bed, giving her a bath, dressing her in cute clothes (the butterfly dress the boys picked out with Aunt Kelsey), a headband, and a bow, feeding her (or trying to!), playing with her. She was happy, entertaining, animated, and talkative. We learned she can roll, push up on her hands when she's on her tummy, and sit if you balance her. She was silly today and we ate it up. We also got to skype with all the grandparents and the boys, so they got to see her in action. The boys made silly noises the whole time, and Laina cooed right back. We can't WAIT to see them all together. They're going to have so much fun!

We had a bit of trouble getting Laina to eat. She doesn't know how to suck, so we had to keep making the hole in the bottle larger so it basically would drip into her mouth. She chews on the nipple, but she won't suck on it. And she likes that formula hot! (All the babies do.) But after some messy trial and error, we got her to eat at least some. Better luck tomorrow.

We get to pick her up early again tomorrow morning and go to church with her for the first time. Can't wait!

Friday, May 06, 2011

We Passed Court!

We legally and officially have three children now! Check back tomorrow for some PICTURES!!! For now, we're headed to bed. We leave very early tomorrow to go pick up Laina and have her with us all day.


Rwanda, Day Nine

I'm losing track of the days now. Have we really been here nine days? Wow.

Yesterday we attended court. Today at 2pm, we'll find out if we passed (there's really no reason for us not to pass). We didn't get to see Laina yesterday, and today I have a bit of a stomach bug, so I can't see her again (don't want to risk making the babies sick!). But Jeremy is there with her now, hopefully taking loads of pictures for me.

Yesterday afternoon, we went to the Genocide Memorial. As you could guess, it's one of those places that you leave feeling so heavy and sad. I had read several books on the genocide, but seeing the pictures and hearing the stories of those who had survived, and especially seeing clothing that they had recovered from mass graves--Jesus, have mercy. The memorial was really well done, giving a clear history of what happened, and especially of the events leading up to the genocide. It's hard to imagine that genocide can happen, but when you read and see all of the propaganda, political stuff, historical aspects, etc, you realize how it can. And it does. Part of the purpose of this memorial is to educate people on what leads to genocide so it will never happen again in any country. I applaud the efforts.

The best part of that whole experience was the room dedicated to heros of the genocide. People, ordinary people, who would not be persuaded to evil but instead risked their lives--and sometimes lost them--to hide people, to fight, to help people escape. Some of the men fought the genocidaires with rocks--when they were being shot at with guns. Women hid strangers under their beds. Families dug trenches disguised as gardens and hid people there, feeding them and caring for them for weeks. The point made by the audio that accompanied the tour was that those people showed that even in times of genocide, people have a choice. There is always a choice to do right, even if it costs us our lives.

Outside of the memorial, there are mass graves where remains of victims are being interred still today. And there are gardens. Beautiful rose gardens, where each individual rose represents a victim, gardens that represent ancient peaceful Rwanda, Rwanda torn apart, and Rwanda reconciled, a forest of remembering, and a fire that burns for the 100 days of remembering, from April 6-July, the dates of the genocide. It was beautiful and full of hope and new life in the midst of horror and death.

I am so thankful to be here, to be seeing at least a little bit of Laina's homeland. I hope that when she's older, we can all come back and get to know this place. It's beautiful, and that's just what I'm seeing from the bus as we drive from one appointment to another.

Please pray for: health for all of us, an easy time passing court, and that we'd get our travel letters very quickly. Once we have those, we can keep Laina with us all the time--and show pictures! And pray for the boys as they're missing us (and we are missing them!).

Thanks, friends. And by the way, may I remind you that comments=love? :)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Rwanda, Day Six

It was a good day today! A slow day, which was nice. We didn't have paperwork to complete, so we got to see Laina twice. She was much more animated than she has been, so I think she's feeling healthier and more comfortable around us. We got a tour of the orphanage and let me just say that those sisters are amazing. I have nothing but respect for them. And let me also say that if you ever have thought about adopting, please do it. Those children need families, and they want families. Especially the older ones who know what they're missing. They ask about it. Breaks my heart.

The best moment of my day was on our second visit, when the nuns said we could go into the baby room to get our children. I walked over to Laina's crib and leaned over the side. She was lying on her back, and when she saw me, she smiled! And then she started kicking her feet. Melt! The hardest part was leaving her there yet again.

And that brings me to our prayer request for the night. Tomorrow morning at the crack of early, we have court. Pray that we pass! Then we'll be one step closer to keeping her with us forever. Please also pray for my health (been feeling a bit sick), and for our friends who are struggling through some issues with their adoption.

Tomorrow is another day, another step closer to bringing Laina home and all of us being together at last.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Rwanda, Day Four

Today, we got to spend a lot of time with Laina--about four hours. She is still as sweet as ever. We got a few more grins today, and a lot of snuggles. We've learned more about her today. She can't sit up by herself, but she's close. She is very curious and tactile; she loves to touch, hold, fiddle with, scratch, and examine everything she can reach. Jeremy's glasses and my necklace are the favorites, but she has also played with our hands, her dress, her rattle, a book, the snaps on my shirt--really, anything.

She has huge eyes and she stares right at our faces a lot. She also has a kind of silly smirk she wears when something is mildly entertaining but doesn't deserve her full grin. (Oh, but that grin is worth the work!) She is one intense little girl!

It seems like sleep is one of her coping mechanisms. She has fallen asleep almost every time we've seen her. On our second visit today, she fell asleep about half an hour in and stayed that way until we left.

I think we'll need to help Laina control her levels of stimulation until she learns how to cope. That will mean a lot of time for her in the baby carrier, sheltered from too much noise and change. But I don't mind. I've been waiting to use that baby carrier for a long time. :)

Rwanda is beautiful. It has rained the past two afternoons, which makes it crisp and cool. I'm loving the storm clouds and the mountains and trees. I wish we could have the boys here to see it all. I sure miss them.

Tomorrow we start on paperwork. Please pray that our whole group will get through it all fast and easily. We want those babies home!

Well, I meant to post pictures, and to tell you about Jeremy's dining adventure, but it will have to wait. Pictures aren't loading very well, and we're tired! Goodnight all.